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I recently spoke with Marc Rotenberg, Executive Director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center EPIC, who told me about a story that has not received enough attention. It involves the Pentagon’s use of a new system of biometric identification in Iraq that EPIC fears “could lead to further reprisals and killings.”
Last month, USA Today ran an article on a new system, to be deployed by the U.S. military, that profiles suspected insurgents in Iraq. According to this story, “U.S. troops are creating a database with hundreds of thousands of records of Iraqi adult males, which they can use to conduct quick background checks and identify potential troublemakers.” The paper also reported that American personnel are taking scans of individuals’ fingerprints and irises at homes, workplaces, and checkpoints. Suspected insurgents are added to a general database that is administered by the U.S. military. “The biggest problem we have in Iraq is separating insurgents from the population,” Owen West, who served two Iraq tours as a Marine major, told the newspaper. “Once you can identify someone, you can begin to crack the insurgent network as the police would crack a gang.”
Rotenberg found the USA Today story troubling given abuses of identity systems in past conflicts in South Africa and Rwanda–where official identification cards contained ethnic information that was used to identify people to be killed. He believes the Defense Department should develop guidelines for the military’s use of biometric systems, including privacy and accountability controls if it is turned over to the Iraqi government. “We recognize the strategic military importance of identifying threats to American military personnel,” EPIC, Privacy International, and Human Rights Watch wrote in a letter to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates on July 27. “However, these tactics also strip away a substantial privacy measure for Iraqi citizens in the midst of a conflict that flows from deep religious and ethnic division. Specifically, the biometric identification of Sunni, Shiite, and Kurd populations vastly increases the possibility that this information may be misused at some future point.”
According to Rotenberg, the company that is “pretty much ground zero for the surveillance industry” is L-1 Identity Solutions. L-1′s board of directors includes some powerful former government officials: Louis Freeh, the former FBI Director, George Tenet, former CIA Director, and Admiral James Loy, former deputy undersecretary of the Transportation Security Administration. Biometric identification is clearly big business: the company issued a press release earlier this year saying it had won up to $71 million from the U.S. Army for handheld biometric recognition devices and another announcing a deal to provide the Pentagon with “Automated Biometric Identification System[s]” for “broad use in the accurate and fast identification of individuals.” In addition, the company’s website says that thousands of its “mobile iris and multi-modal devices” have been deployed in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Cuba, Bosnia, and other “places of global conflict.”
There’s more on the story at EPIC’s website.
More from Ken Silverstein:
Perspective — October 23, 2013, 8:00 am
How pro-oil Louisiana politicians have shaped American environmental policy
Postcard — October 16, 2013, 8:00 am
A trip to one of the properties at issue in Louisiana’s oil-pollution lawsuits
Fleming awoke in the dark and his room felt loose, sloshing so badly he gripped the bed. From his window there was nothing but a hallway, and if he craned his neck, a blown lightbulb swung into view. The room pitched up and down and for a moment he thought he might be sick. The word “hallway” must have a nautical name. Why didn’t they supply a glossary for this cruise? Probably they had, in the welcome packet he’d failed to read. A glossary. A history of the boat, which would be referred to as a ship. Sunny biographies of the captain and crew, who had always dreamed of this life. Lobotomized histories of the islands they’d visit. Who else had sailed this way. Famous suckwads from the past, slicing through this very water on wooden longships.
A welcome packet, the literary genre most likely to succeed in the new millennium. Why not read about a community you don’t belong to, that doesn’t actually exist, a captain and crew who are, in reality, if that isn’t too much of a downer on your vacation, as indifferent to one another as any set of co-employees at an office or bank? Read doctored personal statements from underpaid crew members — because ocean life pays better than money! — who hate their lives but have been forced to buy into the mythology of working on a boat, separated now from loved ones and friends, growing lonelier by the second, even while they wait on you and follow your every order.
Rank of Detroit among major U.S. cities whose residents give the largest portion of their income to charity:
A South Dakota researcher concluded that only scant blood spatter results when chain saws are used to dismember pigs.
Four people were arrested for using a remote-controlled hexacopter to fly two pounds of tobacco to prisoners inside the yard at Calhoun State Prison in Georgia.
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Our congratulations to Alice Munro, winner of the 2013 Nobel Prize for Literature